FOREST OWNERS BACK MAHOGANY HARVEST

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SUVA, Fiji (Oct. 22, 2002 – FijiLive/Daily Post)---The government and the Fiji Hardwood Corporation Limited now have the backing of the majority of the mahogany landowners.

And as a result, they could proceed with the harvesting of the billion-dollar forest resource without any problems from the resource owners.

Landowners’ spokesman Peceli Tuisawau confirmed the development yesterday.

He said although some members of Vanua Mahogany Landowners Association had filed a writ asking the government to make its stand clear on profit share of the forests, most of the members of the association had pledged support for the work the government was doing.

"The landowners are tired of waiting and the forests have matured. We have to move forward. Government has committed itself to finding a just profit share formula and as a result, the landowners have agreed to support it in the trial harvests," he said.

Tuisawau said the trial harvests would confirm the value of the forests and once this was finalized, a just profit share could be finalized.

"This is what the landowners want - they want to be given a fair share of what belongs of them.

"This seems like a fair deal and we will wait to see what comes out of the valuing process. We are hopeful of a fair deal."

This puts to rest to anger and frustration that rose from the government’s denial in stamping clear its stand on profit share. This had led to a split among the landowners.

Some landowners had demanded either 50 percent and in some cases, 100 percent of the profits. Vanua landowners, on the other hand, have left the courts to decide on this.

The landowners had threatened to "do whatever they could" to stop government from harvesting the forests.

It had earlier been reported that "government’s ignorance in announcing profit share had led to some landowners dealing with the company rebel leader and former mahogany boss George Speight was dealing with."

This, however, was denied at that time by the government as well as other stakeholders.

Tuisawau yesterday endorsed the reports.

"Yes, I am aware that some of these people are dealing with that company - Anglo Pacific - that is said to be operated by crooks.

"But I must say, that they represent only a small fraction of the landowners," he said.

"From meetings we have had with the landowners, they are happy government is taking things forward and as for those who are not happy, we are continuously meeting with them to explain what government is doing.

"We have to realize there’s a lot of things to consider when working out the issue of profit share, especially when we are dealing with a billion dollar resource such as mahogany."

This was the company that played a major role in the overthrow of the People’s Coalition Government.

For additional reports from Fiji’s Daily Post, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Other News Resources/FijiLive.

FIJI LANDOWNERS PLAN PROTEST OVER MAHOGANY DEAL

SUVA, Fiji (Oct. 22, 2002 – Radio New Zealand International)---A big protest is being planned in Fiji over the government's stance on the ownership of the country's large mahogany forests.

Isireli Fa, the lawyer for the Vanua Mahogany Landowners' Association, says the government has shut the door in the faces of indigenous landowners when it comes to discussing what equity they should have in the forests. He says they are rejecting a report from the Great Council of Chiefs that the state and the landowners should share the proceeds of the harvests 50-50. And Fa says the association is pursuing court action because the landowners are being denied the option to buy the highly valuable mahogany.

"Firstly, all their trees were clear-felled without compensation," Fa said. "Secondly the plantations that were planted on their land, they were paid a peppercorn rental of 5 cents per acre. Now, all these things were on the understanding that the landowners would have a substantial stake or equity in this forest, or better still if they could buy, then they would buy out the government."

The case is being heard in the High Court in Suva with the parties next making an appearance on Nov. 18. Fa says the protest is also likely to be taken to the streets this week and may end up outside parliament to ensure there is public attention on the issue.

For additional reports from Radio New Zealand International, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio New Zealand International.

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